The Weekly Reflektion 45/2022

Language and communication have been major factors in the evolution of humans. The ability to learn and adapt to changing environments gave homo sapiens a great advantage despite obvious deficiencies in strength and speed compared with other predators and prey. Before the advent of writing systems communication was verbal, and it is likely that the early humans used stories to facilitate experience transfer. The story tradition has continued and now we enjoy many stories that are so obviously not true, yet through the enjoyment we learn.

Do you let the truth get in the way of a good story?

The seven Harry Potter fantasy novels by J. K. Rowling captured the imagination of millions of people since the first book was released on 26th June 1997. The basic story of good against evil, with good winning of course, and the belief in a noble aim and the sacrifice one must be prepared to make to succeed, is reflected in many religious stories. The idea of putting the message in a form that will capture people’s attention is not new and has a proven track record. Unfortunately, our presentations on incidents and accidents can be boring and mundane and often fail to stimulate the imagination of the people we are presenting to, and valuable learning is lost. 

As part of one of our recent projects we were asked to interview several people with a view to making recommendations on continuous improvement. One of the topics for discussion was learning from incidents and how the companies use the findings from investigations to identify and implement actions that will lead to change. That is, how the companies learn. One of the people we talked to was involved in a serious incident that we have used in one of our Reflektions. The theme for the Reflektion was the importance of competence. Our understanding of the incident was taken from the official investigation report. One of the causes identified was that people involved in the planning and execution of an operation did not understand how equipment functioned. The person we talked to was disappointed by the investigation and the report. He maintained that he and the others involved knew how the equipment functioned however they had been informed of operating parameters for the equipment that were incorrect hence the equipment did not function as expected. Whether the investigation team had fully understood this is not clear. Creating a story from this incident to emphasize the importance of ensuring people are competent is not necessarily wrong. Sometimes a simple message and an action that will make improvements is a good approach. However, failing to identify causes associated with an incident and putting measures in place to address these causes is not right. We need to be tenacious in our investigations and not be afraid to ask ‘Why’ several times to ensure we understand. We need to be creative in our learning process to ensure changes are actually made.

My mother often embellished her stories and sometimes the deviations were so significant that my father would interrupt with corrections. My mother would react with ‘Well, we don’t want the truth to get in the way of a good story, do we?’ As my father would say, ‘I only say something when the things that are not quite true actually matter and could lead to harm.’ 

Reflekt AS